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ON DISPLAY

The Destruction of the Kelly gang (from The Australasian Sketcher, 17 July 1880)

by The Australasian Sketcher (publisher), Tom Carrington and The Australasian Sketcher (publisher)

wood-engraving (sheet: 41.0 x 27.5 cm)

Steve Hart (1859–1880) lived his whole short life in the country around Wangaratta. One of numerous children of Irish immigrant farmers, he went to the Catholic school in Wangaratta until he was about fifteen, when he fell in with a bunch of men engaged in horse dealing. He served several sentences for stealing horses, covering a total period of about a year in Beechworth gaol. There, fatefully, he befriended Ned Kelly’s brother Dan. On his release from gaol Hart undertook to remain on a lawful path, but soon tired of working at fencing and sawmilling and took off on his horse – reportedly crying ‘Here’s to a short life and a merry one!’ as he departed. Sergeant Steele, who had encouraged Hart, suspected he had become involved with Kelly, and warned his family to try to retrieve him. However, he was with Kelly at Stringybark Creek and became an outlaw henceforth; he took part in the bank robberies at Euroa and Jerilderie. After the siege of Glenrowan on 28 June 1880, in the course of which police set the Glenrowan Inn on fire, two charred corpses were pulled out of the inn. Reasonably assumed to be those of Dan Kelly and Steve Hart, they were buried together the following day at Greta. Unsurprisingly, rumours soon circulated that Kelly and Hart had not died on the day, but had escaped and decamped for Queensland or foreign lands.

Joe Byrne (1857-1880), born to Irish Catholic parents like the others in Kelly’s ‘gang’, showed promise at school but left as a twelve year old, after his father died. From his youth he associated with horse and cattle thieves, but he also grew up familiar with Chinese gold diggers and is said to have spoken some Cantonese and used opium. Legend has it that he was a charmer who dallied with barmaids and periodically visited Beechworth to drink and ‘see his girl’ (in the 2003 film Ned Kelly, he was played by Orlando Bloom). Byrne was present at all the major episodes in the history of the Kelly gang. He was at Stringybark Creek, where Kelly killed three policemen; he guarded more than twenty captives on a property near Euroa while the Kelly brothers and Steve Hart robbed the town’s bank; he participated in the robbery at Jerilderie, and wrote the ‘Jerilderie letter’ as Ned Kelly dictated. He shot his erstwhile friend, Aaron Sherritt, on 26 June 1880. Byrne was shot in the ‘siege of Glenrowan’ on 28 June 1880, and bled to death in the hotel. While Dan Kelly’s and Steve Hart’s bodies burned, his was dragged out before fire took hold of the building. The next day, in Benalla, it was strung up in puppetlike fashion outside the gaol house. JW Lindt was one of several photographers who recorded the ghastly spectacle, taking, in the words of curator Judy Annear, the ‘first Australian press photograph’, showing not only Byrne’s body but other photographers at the scene. There is only one known photograph of Byrne alive, taken by James Bray in Beechworth; debonairly dressed, moustachioed, with an intelligent expression, he leans nonchalantly on a cabinet. The illustration on this page of the Australasian Sketcher is evidently copied from photographs of his bearded corpse.

It was Ned Kelly’s plan to derail a police train in the vicinity of Glenrowan. However, the train arrived much later than he anticipated. While he waited, he took more than sixty hostages in the town’s inn, owned by Ann Jones. While the gang, sleep-deprived, watched their captives, there was drinking, and some menace-tinged merriment. A hostage tricked Kelly, decamped, and warned the approaching police, who were thus in a position to lay siege to the inn on the morning of 28 June. Dan Kelly, Steve Hart and Joe Byrne were killed that day; Kelly was captured early the next. Much of Glenrowan is now heritage-listed.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Purchased 2017
Accession number: 2017.110